This weekend we flew to Memphis to the “local” farmer’s market. We do this several times in the season to purchase produce to “put up” for the winter. This trip was aimed at buying heirloom tomatoes, lima beans and Lady peas. For our large family this is a pretty hefty volume.
I am passionate about local farmer’s markets. In fact, so much so that when we travel I consider them a big part of “what-to-do” in a city. Each market I have visited has its own personality drawn from the local culture, farmers and season. Since our usual mode of travel is by plane my husband grins and indulges me with a market trip knowing we can’t take home boxes of veggies by plane. “Only buy what you can eat before we go home!”
I love what the growth of the number of farmer’s market shows about the changes in agriculture in America today. This growth in markets accounted for the USDA recently celebrating National Farmers Market Week. The USDA reported in December 2011, that there were 4,865 farmers markets operating in the USA — a 47% increase in just four years. On the USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory it shows listings of over 8,000 markets though not all small markets are listed. I have heard the estimate to be closer to 10,000 if you included all.
Farmers, local markets and consumers have orchestrated this development and built a bridge between the farm and the consumer. The bridge has on one end a sustainable farmer who needs a more direct market that puts profitability back into the sustainability definition. Partnered on the other end of the bridge with a consumer interested in more information on how their food is produced and who produces it. The demand for local food and direct marketing has been a fast growing part of the new agricultural model. In fact, the last Census of Agriculture indicates that direct sales from farmers to consumers increased by nearly 50% between 2002 and 2007. Marketumbrella reported in a study published in 2012 the impact of this new model on family farms. Worth an estimated $1 billion in 2005, local food sales grew to $4.8 billion in 2007 and nearly $7 billion last year, according to industry estimates. For farms located near major cities, having a farmers market nearby means an average increase in sales of anywhere from $19,000 to $15 million.
Unfortunately, Rain Crow Ranch in Ripley County Missouri is not close to a major city and our closest farmer’s market in a 3-4 hour drive. So, we do not market our grassfed beef, pastured pork or pasture raised chickens at a local farmer’s market. Yet, we love them and support them and hope you support them when you can. It just may provide part of the answer to real change in the industrial agricultural model in the US.